Blessed assurance

Call to the table in the face of terror

by Ken Sehested

        One important thing that hasn’t been said this week [about the savagery of separating of children from parents at the US-Mexican border] is that this Department of Justice policy change is in fact a form of terrorism.

        The point of terrorism isn’t killing people. Terrorists make strategic use of aggressive trauma to spread fear for the purpose of affecting social or political objectives. Look up the FBI’s definition.*

        When Attorney General Jeff Sessions first announced this new administrative procedure six weeks ago, he explicitly used the threat of separating children to spread fear among would-be immigrants. Already, 2,000 children have been separated from families.

        When we gather at this table, week after week, we recall an ancient act of terrorism when the Newer Testament story’s antagonistic climax began, with Jesus gathering with his disciples shortly before his arrest, torture, and crucifixion.

        For the Roman authorities, crucifixion was not merely a means of capital punishment. It had a very special meaning, of hanging those convicted of subversion on crosses at busy intersections for all to see. Its purpose was far larger than killing—its purpose was to terrify the population to enforce obedience.

        Of course, our weekly recollection is more than reminiscence. Rather, it is ongoing training in light of the continuing antagonism to what Jesus named as the Kingdom of God. The drama did not end with Jesus; but it was illuminated, with the call to a different sort of obedience extended to those willing to walk in this Way.

        So week by week we ritually reimagine ourselves as actors in this story. It is a repeated practice because we are forgetful; because the signals that fill the airways are confusing and contradictory. We gather to tune ourselves anew to redemption’s homing beacon. And we are reminded again that we are not alone, that the Comforter is present, that we are buoyed by a power we do not manage or fund or control.

        Indeed, “it is the resurrection which is the terror of God to all who believe that death should have the final word” (Lee Griffith).

        Many years ago, in a season of personal trauma and career uncertainty, I memorized this Wendell Berry poem, which speaks of the assurance and sustenance available to all:

        Whatever is foreseen in joy
        Must be lived out from day to day.
        Vision held open in the dark
        By our ten thousand days of work.
        Harvest will fill the barn; for that
        The hand must ache,
        the face must sweat.

        And yet no leaf or grain is filled
        By work of ours; the field is tilled
        And left to grace.
        That we may reap,
        Great work is done
        while we’re asleep.

        When we work well,
        a Sabbath mood
        Rests on our day and finds it good.
        [“X” in Sabbaths, North Point Press, 1987]

        Come to the table, trusting in this blessed assurance.

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©ken sehested @ This is a slightly extended version of his “call to the table” for communion, 17 June 2018, Circle of Mercy Congregation, Asheville, NC.

For more on this topic, see “Testimony in a Time of Terror: Standing with the Word of God, for the earth and against the world,” a litany for worship adapting multiple biblical texts

*Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Definition of Terrorism. The unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.